Non-Smoking Man

iota-audio-design - an introduction.

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Posted (edited)

I came by this little known British company (based in the North) in my search for balanced electronics to go into my high end pro audio style active horn system. I needed 2 turntables of course for 'discos' and jive dances and instead of making do with one balanced phono stage for both and using a splitter, I went for the better solution in terms of preserving that precious signal, by using another phono stage.

Could I get anything reasonably close to my existing Ayre (USA) phono stage for little money?

Its a tough ask, but iota-audio-design manufacture a one box phono stage called the Median and on their website they listed one, ex-dem, for £395. Unusually, its designed as a fully balanced unit from the ground up. (They supply adaptors for RCA/unbalanced sytems so you can use it 'conventionally' as  Paul Rigby (alias 'The Audiophileman')had  reviewed it. (He gave it 8 out of 10.) I bought it.

Why, you might ask, would a manufacturer produce a balanced product in a hifi world dominated by RCA socketry i.e., the domestic market?

The answer may lie in the background of one of the two partners in the company - Mark Hudson. Mark (Bsc Honours) has experience in pro audio and live performance and, as you may know, in that sphere balanced connections are vital for long cable lengths to limit distortion and noise. (I note that the company also produce, , active crossovers (of interest to me) as well as TTs, amps, DACs and speakers etc.)

The other partner is Nigel Brown who was in partnership with Tom Fletcher in the Space Deck days.

The Median performed well. It is not an Ayre but it wasnt far behind in detail and pezazz. This is a good back up for the Ayre, I thought. It lacked the soundstage and sweetness of the Ayre on female vocals I noticed. Probably a product that would fit into a £3K system very nicely. But way above most pro audio kit.

i reported back to Nigel what I thought (as he requested) and then he suggested I try the Signature - their 2 box top of the range model.

Oh dear! I suspected the worst - that I would really like it, and that's what's happened.

Bearing in mind I was playing my shortlist of personal references and had the aural imprint of the Ayre to go by for comparison, the Signature bridged the gap from the Median to the Ayre. Initially I thought the Ayre just edged it on the female vocals, but, having had a few days left on, it has impressed me on 2 LPs this evening (Lloyd Cole ,Rattlesnakes' and Joni 'Clouds').  The delicate detail of the guitar work on the former, and the beautiful voice of the singer on the latter wowed me.

I had been alerted this phono stage had seemed to take a step forward when I was forced from my study to the lounge by the Karelia Suite LPI had just plonked on the Thorens TD124 to get the evening going. It was large! Phew..very nice.

I shall get a second impression of the Signature from Bigfool67 when he comes over in a few days (he's heard the Ayre in situ) and Im taking it to Joolz's bake off in a couple of weeks where some experienced Wammers can hear it.

The TD124 has several mods - the DJ aluminium top platter is removed and the motor is suspended on springs. The arm I use is a Wilson Benesch Act 0.5 with increased mass, and the MC is a Miyajima Shilabe. I have changed the RCA plugs on the captured Cardas phono leads for Switchcraft XLRs.


(I used both phono stages in a fully balanced system and cables were AN copper Lexus connecting phono, pre (Ayre Evolution), and power (Cary 805 SET monoblocks (converted to balanced operation)) and the Jantzen TQWT were connected with Telllurium Q Black. A pair of unbalanced Bastani 18" subs were connected with RCA Chord Cobra, fed from Pre Out 2.)

It will be interesting to see if it measures up (metaphorically speaking)...

Jack NSM

Edited by Non-Smoking Man
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The Median Rev11 retails for £625 and the Signature reference £1,495.

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I shall look forward to hearing this chez-Joolz in a couple of weeks. The TD124 is a fine bit of kit, and made some great music at Lurch's last bake-off so it will be interesting to hear it again in partnership with this new addition :^

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I've got their signature 2 box headphone amp, sold off most of my valve and SS headphone amp collection when it arrived. It drives my LCD3s better than anything else and has a distinctive "class A" sound to it, although as it doesn't get warm I'm not sure it really is.

Sent from my POT-LX1 using Tapatalk

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Super Wammer

That is really interesting Jack, I know you really rate the Ayre (& so you should it is very good), so for this Iota to be seducing you so soon augers well for the product. I would have liked to hear it in your system before we go to Joozs' to get a better handle on it but as you know my recent incapacity has meant I have not been able to get out & about as I would have liked.

Dave will be pleased you have knocked 10 years off his age by the way!

Balanced equipment has never been a priority of mine, but you have clearly demonstrated that in a fully balanced system there are more benefits than just a secure termination, & for people who have had a passing interest in balanced equipment it must surely be an avenue to explore?

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Confusingly there are two audio companies called Iota - the other being a far more pedestrian outfit - once I'd found the correct site, I was much taken with their tonearms (and indeed their crazy looking turntable) - I've been thinking of embarking on another unipivot project at some point - they have a really interesting approach - they are clearly not idiots

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Conjuring up the the concept, as in baseball, of 4 bases (to a review), then the introduction to the Iota Signature would constitute first base - here is the second base: lights out, after midnight, some 'lubrication' and some favourite (and well known) tracks.

I give you Miles Davis Blue Note Vol2 (Blue Note 1502). There are 2 volumes to this series and they comprise all Miles Davis's Blue Note recordings prior to his signing for Prestige. Accompanying Miles were Horace Silver and Art Blakey, who would both go one to form, with others, the Jazz Messengers, plus Jay Jay Johnson and Percy Heath. This album is straightaway bebop and sees Miles b4 his 'mute' days. Its a great album - a sublime album (well that's how it seemed to me tonight).

I know this album, but Ive not played it for a while (it emerged in a rifle thro the Ikea shelves). It was gorgeous. Piano and trumpet sounded like they should, and the whole thing boogied along cohehently and enjoyably. I found myself making body shapes to the twists and turns to the music and was swept away by the combo as they made there way through their repertoire. Jazz like this, if you get it, is full of rhythms and shapes that engage you and excite you.

The Iota played its part. Its not easy to say quite what part it played, given its a system I was listening to, but I would assert that it was enabling the first class front end to strut its stuff. I formed the (unscientific) impression that the Miyajima Shilabe was the star of the show (its the most expensive component in the system and is at the head of it) and that the Iota Signature was paving the way..'go on then, let's see what you can do..'.

All I can say is I had a ball.

Next up (and this will surprise you) - Sydney Youngblood 12" single entitled 'If Only I could..' This 12" soared away against a crystal clear background. One of my favourites from my disco days and a joy.

'O Mandinka' was a test case. If the Iota carried this off then I would be truly impressed. (Ive heard this on my Cranfield Rock with a Cadenza Blue through the Horn System. I gave it 8.5 out of 10. The sound didnt have the emotional impact that I remember, but what it did have was balls.

Im not one to gush but I was uplifted by this session after a difficult week.

With the Iota Signature on board I can say without reservation that it belongs in a  system of this quality and is doing as good a job as any other component therein.

Base 3 will be what the bake Off crowd make of it, and fourth base will be when the Ayre P-5xe ($3250) is back in the system for a face to face.


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